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Ear Pinning

By

Hedy Marks, MPH

What is ear pinning?

Ear pinning is surgery to correct protruding ears. Ear pinning is a type of otoplasty, or plastic surgery on the outer ear. Your surgeon may need to remove cartilage and skin behind your ears, and will use permanent sutures, or stitches, to pin back your ears. Most people seek ear pinning for cosmetic or aesthetic reasons.

Ear pinning is a common surgery with risks and potential complications. Consider getting a second opinion about all of your treatment choices before having ear pinning.

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Other procedures that may be performed

Your doctor may perform other cosmetic procedures in addition to ear pinning to enhance the appearance of your ears. For example, your doctor may recommend ear reshaping if you want to change the size or shape of your ears. Ear reshaping is another type of otoplasty.

Why is ear pinning surgery performed?

Your doctor may recommend ear pinning if you are dissatisfied with how far your ears stick out from your head. Good candidates for ear pinning surgery are generally healthy adults and children five years of age or older. 

Ask your doctor about all of your treatment options and consider getting a second opinion before deciding on ear pinning.

Who performs ear pinning surgery?

The following specialists perform ear pinning surgery:

  • Plastic surgeons specialize in aesthetic and reconstructive surgery.

  • Facial plastic and reconstructive surgeons specialize in plastic and reconstructive surgery of the face. They initially train as plastic surgeons or otolaryngologists (ear, nose and throat doctors/surgeons).

  • Head and neck plastic surgeons specialize in plastic and reconstructive surgery of the head and neck. They initially train as plastic surgeons or otolaryngologists (ear, nose and throat doctors/surgeons).

How is ear pinning surgery performed?

Your ear pinning will be performed in a hospital, surgeon's office, or outpatient surgery clinic. Ear pinning surgery techniques vary depending on your needs. 

The surgery typically involves making an incision just behind the ear, in the natural fold where the ear and head meet. Your surgeon may remove or trim excess ear cartilage and skin. Then your surgeon will reposition and secure your ear with permanent, internal stitches. 

Types of anesthesia that may be used

Your doctor will perform ear pinning surgery using either general anesthesia or regional anesthesia, depending on the specific procedure.

  • General anesthesia is a combination of intravenous (IV) medications and gases that put you in a deep sleep. You are unaware of the procedure and will not feel any pain.

  • Regional anesthesia is also known as a nerve block. It involves injecting an anesthetic around certain nerves to numb a large area of the body. To numb a smaller area, your doctor injects the anesthetic in the skin and tissues around the procedure area (local anesthesia). You will likely have sedation with regional anesthesia to keep you relaxed and comfortable.

What to expect the day of your surgery

The day of your surgery, you can expect to:

  • Talk with a preoperative nurse. The nurse will perform an exam and ensure that all needed tests are in order. The nurse can also answer questions and will make sure you understand and sign the surgical consent form.

  • Remove all clothing and jewelry and dress in a hospital gown. It is a good idea to leave all jewelry and valuables at home or with a family member. Your care team will give you blankets for modesty and warmth.

  • Talk with the anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist about your medical history and the type of anesthesia you will have.

  • A surgical team member will start an IV.

  • The anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist will start your anesthesia.

  • A tube will be placed in your windpipe to protect and control breathing during general anesthesia. You will not feel or remember this or the surgery as they happen.

  • The surgical team will monitor your vital signs and other critical body functions. This occurs throughout the procedure and your recovery until you are alert, breathing effectively, and your vital signs are stable.

Your surgeon will advise you on which procedure is best for you and how long you need to stay in the hospital based on your diagnosis, age, medical history, general health, and possibly your personal preference. Learn about the different ear pinning procedures and ask why your surgeon will use a particular type for you.

What are the risks and potential complications of ear pinning?  

As with all surgeries, ear pinning involves risks and possible complications. Most ear pinning surgeries are successful, but complications may become serious and life threatening in some cases. Complications can develop during surgery or recovery.

General risks of surgery 

The general risks of surgery include: 

  • Anesthesia reaction, such as an allergic reaction and problems with breathing

  • Bleeding, which can lead to shock

  • Blood clot, which can travel to your lungs, heart or brain and cause a pulmonary embolism, heart attack, or stroke.

  • Infection and septicemia, which is the spread of a local infection to the blood

Potential complications of ear pinning

Complications of ear pining include:

  • Asymmetry or overcorrection of the ears

  • Changes in skin sensation near the ears

  • Hematoma, an accumulation of blood under the skin

  • Poor wound healing

  • Scarring

Reducing your risk of complications

You can reduce the risk of certain complications by following your treatment plan and: 

  • Following activity, dietary and lifestyle restrictions and recommendations before your procedure and during recovery. After surgery, avoid sleeping on your side and try not to scratch or rub your incisions.

  • Informing your doctor if you are nursing or if there is any possibility of pregnancy

  • Stopping smoking. Smoking increases your risk of poor wound healing and may compromise the aesthetic outcome of your procedure.

  • Notifying your doctor immediately of any concerns, such as bleeding, fever, increase in pain, or wound redness, swelling or drainage

  • Taking your medications exactly as directed

  • Telling all members of your care team if you have any allergies

How do I prepare for ear pinning surgery?

You are an important member of your own healthcare team. The steps you take before surgery can improve your comfort and outcome. 

You can prepare for ear pinning by:

  • Answering all questions about your medical history, allergies, and medications. This includes prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, herbal treatments, and vitamins. It is a good idea to carry a current list of your medical conditions, medications, and allergies at all times.

  • Getting preoperative testing as directed. Testing will vary depending on your age, health, and specific procedure. Preoperative testing may include blood tests and other tests as needed.

  • Not eating or drinking before surgery as directed. Your surgery may be cancelled if you eat or drink too close to the start of surgery because you can choke on stomach contents during anesthesia.

  • Stopping smoking as soon as possible. Even quitting for just a few days can be beneficial and help the healing process.

  • Taking or stopping medications exactly as directed. This may include not taking aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), blood thinners, and vitamin and herbal treatments. Your doctor will give you instructions for taking your medications and supplements.

Questions to ask your doctor

Facing surgery can be stressful. It is common for patients to forget some of their questions during a doctor’s office visit. You may also think of other questions after your appointment. Contact your doctor with concerns and questions before ear pinning and between appointments. 

It is also a good idea to bring a list of questions to your appointments. Questions can include:

  • Why do I need ear pinning surgery? Are there any other treatment options for my condition?

  • How will you perform my ear pinning surgery?

  • How long will the surgery take? When can I go home?

  • What restrictions will I have after the procedure? When can I return to work and other activities?

  • When can I shower after surgery? How should I care for my incisions?

  • How will I look after the surgery?

  • What kind of assistance will I need at home?

  • How do I take my medications?

  • How will you treat my pain?

  • When should I follow up with you?

  • How should I contact you? Ask for numbers to call during and after regular hours.

What can I expect after ear pinning surgery?

Knowing what to expect can help make your road to recovery after ear pinning surgery as smooth as possible. 

How long will it take to recover?

Most people stay in the surgeon’s office, surgical center, or hospital for a few hours after ear pinning surgery. You will stay in the recovery room after surgery until you are alert, breathing effectively, and your vital signs are stable. You may have a sore throat if a tube was placed in your windpipe during surgery. This is usually temporary, but tell your care team if you are uncomfortable.

You will be drowsy and may be nauseous from sedation or anesthesia. You will need a friend or family member to drive you home and stay with you the first 24 hours.

You will have bandages wrapped around your head to protect the incisions and support your ears while they heal. Bandages usually remain in place for a few days after surgery. After your provider removes the bandages, you may need to wear a headband, especially when you sleep, for two weeks or more. The headband supports your ears as they heal.

Recovery after surgery is a gradual process. Recovery time varies depending on the procedure, your general health, your age, and other factors. It may take two weeks or more to return to normal activities and for your wounds to heal. You should avoid contact sports for at least a month after ear pinning surgery.

Will I feel pain?

Pain control is important for healing and a smooth recovery. You will have discomfort after your surgery, and your ears may itch under the bandages. It is important that you do not scratch your ears or remove the bandages. 

Your doctor and care team will treat your pain and itching so you are comfortable and can get the rest you need. Call your doctor if your pain gets worse or changes in any way because it may be a sign of a complication.

When should I call my doctor?

It is important to keep your follow-up appointments after ear pinning surgery.  Contact your doctor for questions and concerns between appointments. Call your doctor right away or seek immediate medical care if you have:

  • Bleeding

  • Breathing problems, such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, labored breathing, or wheezing

  • Change in alertness, such as passing out, unresponsiveness, or confusion

  • Chest pain, chest tightness, chest pressure, or palpitations

  • Fever. A low-grade fever (lower than 101 degrees Fahrenheit) is common for a couple of days after surgery. It is not necessarily a sign of a surgical infection. However, you should follow your doctor's specific instructions about when to call for a fever.

  • Inability to urinate or have a bowel movement

  • Leg pain, redness or swelling, especially in the calf, which may indicate a blood clot

  • Pain that is not controlled by your pain medication

  • Unexpected drainage, pus, redness or swelling of your incision

How might ear pinning surgery affect my everyday life?

The new appearance of your ears may give you increased satisfaction with your appearance and increase your self-confidence. Many surgeons caution that it is important to be realistic about how much ear pinning surgery may improve your self-image. It is important to be aware of what ear pinning surgery can and cannot do for your overall appearance and self-image.

Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Sep 4, 2016

© 2017 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

View Sources

Medical References

  1. Ear Surgery: Otoplasty. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. http://www.plasticsurgery.org/cosmetic-procedures/ear-surgery.html.
  2. Ear Surgery. The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. http://www.aafprs.org/patient/procedures/otoplasty.html.
  3. Ear Pinning (Otoplasty). Yale School of Medicine. http://www.yalesurgery.org/plastics/care/cosmetic/index/surgical/earpinning.aspx.
  4. Ear Pinning (Otoplasty). Palo Alto Medical Foundation. http://www.pamf.org/plasticfacialsurgery/Services/earpin.html.

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